The GMC Prep boys soccer team made its final home match of 2021 a memorable one.
For a second straight playoff round the Bulldogs (9-6) both blew out and shut out their opponent, this time the Commerce Tigers (6-9) in a 10-0 mercy-rule final Tuesday. The win advances GMC to the GHSA Class A-Public quarterfinals where the defending state champs will face Region 3 champion Claxton High School on the road next week.
“The guys came out with a lot more focus,” GMC Prep boys coach Bobby Jaworski said. “We talked after the last game about how things weren’t quite clean enough. We played well, but it obviously wasn’t really what we wanted to put out there. We showed a lot more determination tonight and found the right angles to create some good 1-2 opportunities. The guys had a great time out there.”
Tuesday’s match in many ways resembled the Bulldogs’ playoff opener against Mt. Zion of Carrollton. The GMC midfielders and forwards moved the ball through the Commerce defense at will, giving the home side great looks at the net. And when those looks did not cross the line, there was often another Bulldog waiting to clean up and send it home. That’s how GMC first got on the board as sophomore Levi Ward scored the contest’s first goal from the left side of the box just 2:25 in.
Not every trip deep into the Tigers’ end resulted in a goal, but even when the visitors had possession they could not get any offense going. GMC on many occasions sent the ball over the end line, giving Commerce the opportunity the flip the field via goal kick. A Tiger player would launch the ball deep downfield only for the Bulldogs to win back possession and repeat the process all over again. The GMC defenders got the ball in to center midfielder captain Colin McCabe who acts as the team’s point guard and field general. He was having his way with the Commerce defense as he drove down deep to find either good passing lanes or windows for shots. He put the ‘Dogs up 2-0 10 minutes in to drive his own team’s confidence up and the other’s down.
GMC Prep went into the half up 5-0 as McCabe, Ethan Tolentino and Jack Harris added to the running tally in the game’s first 40 minutes. No adjustments were needed at halftime unless you count the heavy substitutions Jaworski made as the entire active roster saw game action Tuesday.
Through the first six goals, the Bulldogs kept their celebrations minimal as they handled the blowout in a business-like manner. Their demeanor changed on the seventh, though. Freshman midfielder Owen McCabe, younger brother to Colin, notched his first-ever varsity goal with 20:32 remaining in the game. That led to the home players on the field and the sideline going crazy for the first of what will likely be many goals in his career.
Speaking of career marks, Tolentino hit a major milestone with Tuesday’s hat trick that he earned on the game’s third, ninth and 10th goals. The senior striker reached 60 goals in his less than four full years of playing varsity soccer. Tolentino totaled seven scores as a freshman, 22 as a sophomore, 12 in the pandemic-shortened 2020 campaign, and now has 19 in his final year so far to make him the lone member of GMC Prep’s 60-goal club.
“You get what you get when you put in the hard work,” Tolentino said. “A lot of work I’ve been putting in through the offseason and this season really helped me on my goal to hitting 60. Getting that milestone means a lot to me.”
Coach Jaworski had a little more to say on his player’s big career achievement.
“It’s massive,” he said. “A couple years ago, 40 was something nobody at GMC had done before. Now he’s been able to chip away to get past 50 all the way to 60. It speaks volumes not only to his ability to find the back of the net and poach those opportunities, but also the amount of trust and respect he has from everybody else on the team to get him the ball.”
Tolentino will tote his 60 career varsity goals down to Claxton for Wednesday’s quarterfinal matchup with the 8-6 Tigers. They advanced by beating Montgomery County 7-2 Tuesday.